Friday, January 13, 2012
Chapter 1: Everyone Goes to Emeric’s
Excerpt from And A One and A Two, My Life Following the Demon Rhythm of the Polka, the unpublished autobiography of Stanislaus Shmengy
Of course, because we have to leave Chicago so quickly after messing up Fratricido Gang’s murder plans, we didn’t have no money. So we tried work our way home, playing here and there. Ocean trip was really tough, I can tell you, crew of merchant sailors on that tramp steamer, SS Kwitchabitchen , wasn’t exactly most recepatiff audience. But we manage to get Grauheim, where we work for Mr. Emeric, who was nice man for filthy, stinking Graustarker. He paid OK and let us sleep in one of broom closets after bar closed. It almost like being home.
We also got to work with Gretl. She was pretty good singer, and good looking girl, for filthy, stinking Graustarker. I have some crush on her I can tell you.
She had finally accepted my invincitation to go on date. There was genuine Ruritanian restaurant in Grauheim Coke Smelting District that served really good potato klopkies and minced pig udders, Leutonian specialty. They even had good prune brfnisz.
So, as you can guess, I was pretty excited about taking her there. Well, during one of our breaks, she comes and tells me she has bad news.
“Well, Stash, as you may know, our Glorious Leader, the Marshal, has become friends with Herr Hitler so he has ordered all of us to read Mein Kampf. I’ve been reading all week and I realize that I can’t go on a date with you since you’re a subhuman. Nothing personal.”
“Puppy puke and oatmeal!” I think “What else could go wrong today.”
Just then, whole club become quiet and wave a fear and trapadanciation sweep room. Elderly man with kindly face walked in. But he wearing brown uniform with badge of the Royal Ruritanian Postal Service on it.
Of course as everyone know, this is most feared and ruthless organization in this part of world, and their motto, “Oh, we’ll deliver your mail alright!” strikes fear in every heart.
No one even questioned how he was able to cross closed border, they are like Japanese ninjas when delivering packages. Also they occasionally will root out spies and traitors or torture confessions out of same, mostly for tips or spare pastry.
My legs turned to pig snout in aspic as he walk up to me.
“Here’s letter for you, sonny, from Ministry of War. It says you and your brother have been mobilized. You have three days to get your Leutonian dupkas to Army or you be shot.” He was then gone as quickly as he come.
“Well, Yosh, that certainly buried cabbage roll under manure pile. We really need to get home now!”
“Chicago, bang bang.” Yosh said in sad voice.
Now I have mention before that my brother was never quite right after getting kicked in head while milking family musk ox. He did well enough in most things but something about injury to his head made him able of only speaking one phrase or sentence at time. Oddly, phrase would change regularly on first day of spring each year. It became regular village holiday to see what new phrase of year would be. People would come from all over the Yatbancha Valley just to see if he would be saying, “Pass pork muffins please” or “Who strangled the budgie?” for whole next year. Papushka even got few extra atvaras by allowing toymaker from Nimitsoran to make talking doll of Yosh. It was very popular gift for St. Kunigunda Day for many years.
But I digest, we were just about to give up hope when suddenly we notice two women entering club. Well one was woman and I think other one was woman too, either that or a big Kravashmirt, although I had not noticed any burning cattle stalls nearby.
But first woman I recognize immediately and knew we had our way home, without being shot.
“Look, Yosh. I said, “It is girl from travel poster!”
Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:
Now Emeric’s was one of those surprising places that you sometimes find when you least expect it. It was only a short train ride from Strelzov and Broni and I had gone there a few times in the very brief happy period of our marriage.
Emeric was a mysterious character. Although Graustarkian, he had traveled the world and we never understood why he had returned to his tedious homeland but were thankful he did.
You must understand that Grauheim, indeed the whole of Graustark, is a grim, remorseless place, even under the best circumstances, and back then it was not the best of circumstances. But Emeric had such a wonderful little place, in the ground floor of an unremarkable building that I think housed apartments for the Telegraph and Telephone Ministry secretarial staff. Once inside the club, however, you were transported to a place you would only find in Paris. The booze was cheap too.
When we arrived that night, it was clear that even Emeric had fallen on hard times. The normally fabulous floor show was reduced to some local girl squeaking out a poor rendition of torch songs accompanied by a pair of musicians dressed seemingly to be extras in some Edward G. Robinson gangster film. I can assure you, darling, that Begin the Beguine is not best heard when rendered on an accordion.
He greeted me at the door of course, overflowing with his usual flattery delivered so well that you might almost think he was sincere. Of course he gave us his best table. So von Schnitzel and I settled into our seats along with that odd little Italian man that Eric had somehow picked up. He said he was the best cameraman in the Balkans but I knew that by best, von Schnitzel meant cheapest. Eric was the most intolerable skin flint.
We had left word at the hotel for Tura to meet us at the club. Now it was von Schnitzel’s idea to hire a Polish actor to play a Polish king. Personally, I would have rathered he hire someone like Anthony Quinn who could play anything foreign from a Mongol to Sioux. But authenticity was von Schnitzel’s bugaboo. That was why he chose Ruritania, he said, for the location filming. He went on and on about how close the architecture there was so similar to that of 16th century Poland.
He became so enthusiastic about this that he attracted the attention of a passing Englishman, who I thought to be some millionaire because of his good looks and excellent choice in attire. But it turned out he was a professor of archeology, Wagmore Barqueless, at one of those little Central European Universities that were so adorable back then, you know, where the students sing in biergartens and cut each other up with sabers. I was quite surprised to learn this since the Professor was so fit and, did I mention, good looking, and not a hint of tweed or must about him.
Then he made the mistake of agreeing with von Schnitzel who immediately took him on as historical advisor to the film, recompense to be determined latter. Despite not looking like a fuzzy-headed Einstein, he agreed with a bit more alacrity than was healthy. Something was up there.
Just when that was settled, Tura arrived. Now Janusz Tura had been trained as an opera singer but he was far more successful on his good looks. And no darling, there was never a Thing between us, at least not that I can remember. He was a handsome man even though he could be a bit fussy about his looks. And don’t get any ideas about that either; Tura was all man, well, mostly man.
He proceeded to pour himself all over my hand in a wonderfully obsequious Old World manner, taking time out only to order drinks for us.
Then I heard a voice behind me, offering to make me the best martini in the world. It was a deep melodious voice, wrapping itself around me like a pair of comfortable leather gloves. When I turned to see who spoke I noticed the beard first and then the man.
Now this was the first time I met the famous Ernest Hummingbird. And this was in the days before he wrote all those tedious books about marlin fishing and cocktail mixing, before his multiple liver transplants. He was magnificent in those days with a confidence that bordered on godlike or megalomaniacal.
He and Tura immediately took a dislike to each other, playing one-ups-manship on each other over the places they’d been, things they had done, and women they had conquered. Poor Janusz, he never had a chance, since any student of modern American literature can tell you what a master of Crapology Hummingbird was. Still it was a wonder to witness.
For example, Tura would sigh and say something like, “There was a lovely woman I once knew in Paris…”
And Hummingbird would interrupt, saying, “Only one woman? In Paris? Oh I do feel sorry for you old sport!”
So the martinis flowed while the accordion banged on and it was a truly wonderful evening. Until she showed up.
At first, I didn’t think anything of her. Who would have, some scrawny little local girl dressed up in an evening gown five years out of date, sneaking into the local club. Hardly unusual. The big, heavily armed Amazon that was with her was a little surprising but I just took her for the family chaperone. Then the girl approached von Schnitzel, claiming that she had been ordered by Prince Bronislav himself to get him into Ruritania. I should have known something was up by the way she gaped at me like a dead carp when I mentioned that I had been married to the rat Broni but I guess my sensibilities weren’t quite as sharp after a good half dozen of Hummingbird’s martinis.
The Amazon was introduced as the notorious smuggler and brigand Hozzenka who would help us across the border. So everything seems ducky, especially after yet more of those wonderful martinis. The two join us of course, but I knew at once, the girl was not used to drinking, probably raised in a convent school, I thought.
Then the musicians came up during once of their breaks and began talking to the girl in some Ruritanian dialect that I couldn’t understand and she was grinning back at them like an idiot and saying of course, the nice peasants could come with us, we were all going home together and she would invite us all to her wedding which was going to be the biggest and best in Ruritania.
While she was embarrassing herself like that, I noticed that she wasn’t the only one. At the next table, a tiny little man with a great big forehead was well into his cups. He was spouting off to the statuesque blond with him, no doubt trying to impress her.
You could see the blond was not happy, “Herr Doktor,” she said in a strong irritated voice. “I knew this was a bad idea, I should never have allowed it!”
“But Ilsa, my leibshein, we deserve our celebration after all our travels! The artifact in Strelzov is the one we have been searching for, the pictures I have seen and description I have heard all match what we found in Tibet. We have nothing to worry about. In a few days our armies will be in Strelzov and the Royal Jewels will be in our hands. Then the vessel we shall be able to provide Berlin with the power to make the Reich invincible!”
The blond tried to quiet him and nodded to a couple of dark suited goons who headed the inebriated doctor to the door.
But I wasn’t the only one who heard him. Barqueless showed considerable interest in the stunted doctor. The Englishmen got up from the table, ostentatiously saying he need to get some cigarettes, then he bumped lightly into the little German as he was being hustled out. When Barqueless returned, he didn’t have any cigarettes but he was palming away some sort of little notebook. He then suggested we all go into the back rooms which were where the gambling tables were located.
Von Schnitzel got a crazed look on his face at this. He jumped up and ran towards the gaming rooms, chanting, “Bet, bet, bet, bet!”
Oh no, thought I, here comes another massacre. Instead, von Schnitzel won nearly every hand he played over the next few hours. Then I noticed that Barqueless was occasionally slipping cards to him, so smoothly that I don’t think even von Schnitzel noticed. This simple Professor was far more interesting than I thought!
Von Schnitzel was amazed, never having won much of anything; he was suddenly about 200,000 Gruamarks richer. He would have stayed there a week, except we suddenly heard singing coming from the main bar. It was a large number of harsh masculine German voices, banging out one of those horrid thumping tunes that terrified the world in those days. Von Schnitzel became pale as a ghost and asked Emeric if he had a back door out of the place.
The ever-obliging Emeric readily agreed to the request, never asking why and showed us to side door leading to the back stage area that would then let us get out by a side door in the coat check room. By now however, our group had grown to about a dozen and rather than a sleathy sneak, we were more like the Macy’s Thanksgiving
Day parade, a whole mob of us winding our way through the darker corners of Emeric.
As I expected, we soon had trouble. We passed the singer who was ensconsed in a corner backstage, pouring over a copy of Mein Kampf with evident teenage ardor. When the musicians, who were two brothers named Shmengy, passed by her, she somehow pried herself away from her reading with a fanatical look of suspicion on her otherwise vacant face.
“Stash, where are you going with all these foreigners? You’re involved in some type of plot, aren’t you, you little subhuman Slav? ALARM!!”
Good Lord, I thought why couldn’t she have used that big yapper in her singing earlier? Unfortunately, her cries brought a lot of jack-booted attention and we soon found ourselves surrounded by Nazis of all shapes and sizes. One, a little bald man in black raincoat, gold-rimmed glasses, and an oversized fedora seemed to be in charge.
“So, why do so many of you feel the need to leave so surreptitiously? This seems to need more investigation!”
I finally had had enough, “Listen, four-eyes, you are talking to a star. So unless you call your goons off, you have to answer to Hecuba Studious and the Screen Actors’ Guild!”
“Ah, play actors! Well, why don’t you perform for us now and prove it. Then we will know the truth.”
Even though we himmed and hawed a bit at this, we knew it was out best chance to get out of this. Hummingbird jotted a few notes down for a script and Tura and I gathered up some make-up and costumes from backstage while the Shmengy boys tuned their instruments. We sent Hozzenka and Wagmore to act as prop assistants. I then asked Zoya what talent she had to which she drunkenly replied that she was a ballerina.
It all made sense now - she was the little tramp who had cavorted with Broni behind my back. Before I could let her have it, Tura was ushering me on stage. Through gritted teeth I told the girl to go out a hold a plie for as long as she could, hoping she would, at the very least, suffer as severe a leg cramp as anybody in history.
The Nazi goons had rousted all of the customers and most of the staff out of the place, only Emeric stayed to keep an eye on what happened. Von Schnitzel and Hummingbird sat in the audience, next to the bald, four-eyes, pretending this was an ordinary opening. Then von Schnitzel asks Emeric to provide “drinks for our honored guests, the kind we used to drink with out friend Mickey Finn.” The Germans didn’t seem to notice and Emeric soon came back with a tray of drinks. Von Schnitzel offered a cloying toast to der Fuhrer and the goons all drank. And nothing happened.
So we went on with the show. Despite it being a mere outline, Hummingbird’s script was actually quite serviceable. It had us doing a love scene between a humiliated Austrian artist, Adolph, and his little mountain laurel, Eva. I never did learn how Hummingbird knew about Eva Braun back then - at the time, her role as Hitler’s mistress was one of the best kept secrets in Germany.
Meanwhile, backstage, Hozzenka who had been guarded by two of the Germans, managed to get loose and pummeled them. Wagmore had simply lifted a third guard’s pistol when he wasn’t looking and held the guard at bay. That is until Hozzenka slit all three throats. They then waited to spring at the most opportune moment.
On stage, we acted on with Tura chewing up the scenery and bewailing how unfair the world was to not recognize his genius but that he would have his revenge against the petty evil no-talents.
“Ballerina!” I suggested viciously as my eyes lit on Zoya who was holding her plie but at a forty degree list. “They are worst, sleaziest, most unprincipled tramps in the world and we get rid of them all!”
At this several of the Nazis began shouting, “Ja! Ja! Death to the Ballerinas!” Then about half of them crumpled to the floor as Emeric’s cocktail began knocking them out.
The little bald Kraut sat shaking his head trying to clear it. He began calling to the rest of his men, those that were still on their feet, to shoot us all.
Von Schnitzel turned the table over and rammed it into Four-eyes and three other goons.
Then the Shmengies reached into their instrument cases and pulled out a shotgun and tommygun. A few short bursts put the rest of the Germans down in a moment.
“Chicago! Bang Bang!”
At this point, the only one standing was the blond, point her pistol with a steady hand, at Hummingbird’s head.
Diary of Zoya Bupkis
August 26, 1939
So Hozzenka and I arrived at Grauheim. It was so easy to cross the border, I don’t know whatever Bronislav was so worried about. We only ran into one patrol of border guards and Hozzenka shot or stabbed all of them before they could make a sound. She didn’t even get blood on my traveling coat.
At the hotel where Von Schnitzel was staying, they told us that he was at a club.
So we went to the club and what a wonderful place it was. We found von Schnitzel easily and listened to lots of wonderful music and had the MOST PERFECT DRINKS EVER! I never tasted anything so good!
After that, I don’t remember things so clearly. There was some card tricks I know, and then lots of men singing and we kept running around backstage, I think looking for the water closet. And someone asked me to show them some ballet stances, which I am sure I did wonderfully, since I have such good ankles. Then I think we went to a play about bad things that were going to happen to a ballerina and I felt so sorry for that girl whoever she was.
Then there was a lot of loud noises, I think it was someone saying Bang Bang over and over again. And then we went out into the cool night air and there were lots of people in the streets and all sorts of taxi cabs and we were in a terrible rush to get somewhere but I couldn’t remember where….
Excerpt from The Sun’s Also Shiny, The Great American Novel, by Ernest Hummingbird:
The play was perfect, even though he had written in under a minute on the back of three cocktail napkins and the coat-check girl’s tip jar. Although the actors were clearly not up to the brilliance of his writing, they did a good enough job to fool the Gestapo man and his thugs. At one point in the play, the author noticed with satisfaction that most of the Germans were crying like babies at the poignancy of his words.
Unfortunately for the world of Art, the play was never finished. The drugged Germans began falling and it was the writer’s chance to save his friends. Most of the thugs were dispatched quickly, falling before the writer’s iron fists.
Then he came up against Ilsa. She stood before him pointing a pistol at his head.
“Enough,” she said, “the police will soon be here and if you cease your resistance now, I can promise that you might live.”
The writer turned his piercing eyes on her, and looked directly into her soul.
“You know, my dear,” he said in a voice of such calm authority that the gun began to shiver ever so slightly in her hand. “If you want to kill a man, you should have a better grip on the pistol.”
At this, the writer ran his fingers lightly and unthreateningly over her wrist. She felt a chill to the deepest point of her heart.
“You really need to support your wrist better to make sure the shot will strike directly into my brain.” He gently wrapped his fingers around her wrist and gun began to wildly flutter in her hands until she dropped it to the floor.
The writer pulled her close and pressed his lips upon hers in a passionate kiss. The kiss was perfect. He continued kissing her and she bent back in his arms, with no resistance, willing to surrender her will to his.
At this point, the writer dropped her to the floor and said to his friends, “Alright, let’s go.”
They went into the street where Chicolini had the truck waiting. The Street was filled with jostling crowds. They were there watching a parade of Field Marshal Kesselschlacht’s panzer rolling through the streets. The whine of police klaxons could be heard approaching…